Sport | Boxing

The Greatest: hometown renames airport after Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali has been honoured by his hometown, Louisville Kentucky, which has renamed its airport after its most famous son.

The new name is Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer says he's proud of the decision to rename the airport.

“Muhammad Ali belonged to the world, but he only had one hometown and fortunately, that is our great city of Louisville."

The move to rename the airport came after more than a year of study and comes with the blessing of Ali's family.

His widow, Lonnie Ali says, “I am happy that visitors from far and wide who travel to Louisville will have another touch point to Muhammad and be reminded of his open and inclusive nature, which is reflective of our city.  Muhammad was a global citizen, but he never forgot the city that gave him his start.”

Ali's global travels included a visit to New Zealand in 1979, when he was 37-years-old and world heavyweight boxing champion for a third time.

Media reports from the time describe his delight at the crowds that greeted him at Wellington Airport and his playful horseplay with the locals.

The Dominion reported that on seeing Māori amongst the crowds, "the champ's eyes lit up, presumably in recognition of a 'black brother', and he lunged playfully while the crowd roared approval."

"The hulk moved among the crowd, singling out Maoris (sic), baiting and sparring, and giving men and small boys something to boast about for the rest of their lives."

At a press conference, the champ drew a comparison between Māori and the civil rights situation of his people.

"If the world could be like New Zealand, it would be a good place. The dark people here don't seem to be mistreated. They don't seem unhappy."

Mayor Fischer says Muhammad Ali "has left a legacy of humanitarianism and athleticism that has inspired billions of people."

This includes Māori who have been uplifted by the civil rights and boxing champion.

At the time of Muhammad Ali's passing in June 2016, Te Kāea spoke to a mokopuna whose grandfather had named his truck "The Ali Shuffle" after the champ's dazzling footwork.

Jared Nordstrom said, “The effect that he had on especially indigenous people is that black was beautiful and I mean there’s parallels for all of us, especially as Māori. You know like 'it’s good to be Māori'.”

Donald Lassere, President of the Muhammad Ali Center says, "We are confident that with this announcement, Louisville will continue to be seen around the world as a bold, compassionate city."

Muhammad Ali would have turned 77 last week.